When Westminster calls

19th December 2008 at 00:00
Scotland's most famous former 'heidie' talks to Elizabeth Buie about his first few months in Parliament - and political hacks

Less than two months into his new job as Westminster MP for Glenrothes, Lindsay Roy, arguably Scotland's most famous former "heidie", cannot stop drawing analogies between politics and school life.

Winning the by-election and going to Parliament, he tells The TESS, felt a bit like a P7 pupil must have done when going to secondary 20 years ago, before induction or transition programmes were introduced. He admits to having got lost a few times in the maze of the House of Commons corridors, a bit like a "lost soul" in Westminster.

Mr Roy has also had his first taste of discipline, having missed a vote only a few weeks into the job. He had gone to Dover House, the Whitehall headquarters of the Scotland Office, for a briefing on the Calman Commission report on devolution, and had thought it polite to switch off his mobile phone during the meeting. When he switched it back on, he had missed a three-line whip call on a vote. "It's a steep learning curve," he says.

The by-election experience was "exhilarating" because "you do see life in the raw". He estimates he met 12,000 people on the doorstep, a deliberate campaign strategy. "It was also humbling because you met people who had suffered a recent bereavement or had other personal issues they wanted to discuss."

Again he draws a comparison with school, where it is unusual for headteachers to go to a family's home; parents and carers usually come into the school.

The by-election also brought him into unprecedented contact with the political media "hacks", which he describes as "sometimes nerve-racking".

"I felt a weight on my shoulders that if I made a gaffe, it might lead to wider consequences for the Government, so I did spend a lot of time being briefed."

Mr Roy has not wasted time setting about the business of being an MP. Constituency work has included everything from reassuring local Post Office workers about Government plans for the PO card account, two quite complex immigration cases, and visiting a constituent to congratulate him on his 100th birthday. However, he says: "I miss school, I miss the buzz. There's a buzz in Parliament, but it's different. There's something rejuvenating about daily contact with young people."

Mr Roy's maiden parliamentary speech focused on education and skills in the more general sense. He said: "I believe very strongly that during this economic downturn - dare I say recession? - the soft targets will be professional development and training. We need to invest and continue investing in these areas, both in the public and private sectors, so that we come out of this in a more competitive position."

Having been put forward to serve on the Scottish Select Committee at Westminster, he plans to focus on the education, skills and employment agenda as well as on the development of social capital.

Through his long-standing membership of School Leaders Scotland (formerly the Headteachers' Association of Scotland), Mr Roy has been elected to the executive committee of the International Confederation of Principals, focusing on the "principals leading principals" network in which heads share their expertise and experience with one another. The role will also involve work on the international development and education side of the association.

Mr Roy had expected to remain a head probably until retirement, he admits. So what made him change his mind? "It was an agonising decision. You are most privileged if you have a career in which you have real job satisfaction. Critically, being able to touch the futures of young people was important to me: you could inspire them and enhance their life prospects."

But after being approached by members of the public and constituency members, he agreed to stand as the Labour candidate. It was rumoured that the Prime Minister had approached him personally to stand - not true, he insists.

Although he had been parachuted in to Kirkcaldy High, Gordon Brown's alma mater, after it had received an unsatisfactory follow-up report from HMIE, he has no concerns about leaving it after less than a year because he has confidence in the staff that he left behind. His task, he says, was to draw up an action plan for transformational change. "The model has been put in place and there has been a change in direction. It didn't need me there."

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